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Lessons learned through pandemic may help restaurants meet challenges ahead

Operators reveal how they are adapting to delivery, menu pricing and cold weather dining in a new survey.
pandemic survey
Photograph: Shutterstock

Outdoor dining saved a number of restaurants over the past few months, but now that winter is around the corner and indoor dining is again restricted in many locales, how will these operators adapt?

A new survey by Rewards Network, a promotional and loyalty program for the restaurant industry, shows that many are counting on lessons learned during the early months of the pandemic and adapting new strategies to stay afloat in the months ahead.

In a poll of 400 restaurant owners, 50% said they would weatherize their patio for winter, but the other 50% won’t be making that investment. Weatherizing runs the gamut—from purchasing expensive heat lamps or domed enclosures to providing blankets and hot toddies for guests.

Two-thirds of the operators who are planning to winterize outdoor seating are optimistic that their customers would be willing or somewhat willing to dine outside in colder weather.

But more operators are optimistic about delivery as a winter revenue stream. Self-delivery became a lifeline for 27% of operators who launched their own service during the pandemic. And an earlier Rewards Network consumer survey indicated that people expect to order delivery more in the coming months than in previous fall/winter seasons.

The cost for launching an in-house delivery service was all over the board, ranging from $0 to $10,000, with an average of $1,923, according to Rewards Network. But utilizing third-party delivery providers is not realistic for some restaurants due to the exorbitant fees the companies typically charge.

Raising menu prices was another way operators tried to make up for decreased dining demand and indoor capacity with COVID restrictions. Nearly 42% of respondents increased prices and consumer reactions were split down the middle, said the operators. About half found that their customers didn’t notice, while the other half experienced some backlash.

Overall, the restaurant owners surveyed had a positive outlook when the survey was conducted earlier this month. Although it looks like the coronavirus crisis will drag on well into 2021, 69% said they are optimistic about the next six months, with only 8% claiming to be very unoptimistic.

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